Home Black History “Slavery Was a Choice”: Blacks Defend Confederate Symbols

“Slavery Was a Choice”: Blacks Defend Confederate Symbols

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by G. Brown

All the debates, arguments and protests over Confederate statues and symbols have exposed a festering wound that many thought had healed.  Those in favor in the monuments and flags say it’s about preserving history, those opposed say its about preserving racism.  The two sides are passionate about their arguments, but it isn’t a clearly black and white issue.

Those in favor of keeping the relics of racial pain are primarily White people, but not all of them.  Many people may remember hearing about Karen Cooper, a Black woman who lived in Virginia.  Cooper was interviewed for a documentary titled “Battle Flag” because of her unique perspective on the Confederate flag.  Cooper was quoted in the NY Daily News saying,”I actually think that it represents freedom, It represents a people who stood up to tyranny.”  Cooper drew some angry push back when she declared, “Slavery was a choice“.  Cooper relies on a famous words of founding father Patrick Henry to finish her argument…”‘Give me liberty, or give me death.’ If we went back to that kind of slavery — no I couldn’t do it. Give me death‘”  Cooper But Cooper says she feels like a slave today because the federal government controls what she can drink, whether she can smoke and even what to put into her body.

Cooper’s specific reasoning is not shared by many Blacks, but others have come up with reasons of their own why Confederate monuments need to be revered not removed.  Former Atlanta Mayor and lifelong civil rights activist Andrew Young has come to the defense of a carving known as the Confederate Mount Rushmore.  The Confederate Memorial chiseled into Stone Mountain  took more than 12 years to finally complete in 1972.  Confederate figures President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson tower 400 feet above ground overlooking thousands of tourists who visit the landmark each year. The battle to remove the memorial has seen a resurgence in the last few years, but the only way to remove it would be with the approval of state lawmakers.  Young calls the memorial “a tremendous carving” that he doesn’t “want to see destroyed.”

Blacks like Young and Cooper make up about 44 percent of the African American community that wants to see such monuments protected.  That’s according to an NPR/PBS NewsHour poll which says about “40 percent” of Blacks want to see all signs of the Confederacy removed and nationwide, “6 in 10 Americans say the monuments should remain“.

Many of these symbols have stood silent and idle for decades until the horrible protests in Charlottesville seemed to awaken slumbering pangs of hate and division.  The other day, a pick-up truck drove pass me on the highway with the Confederate battle flag attached to its rear and the words, “If this offends you, you don’t know history.”  But  it’s because I do know history that the Confederate flag and monuments offend me. I know the battle flag’s creator originally called it the ‘White man’s flag’–a name that makes it clear this flag does not represent people of color.  I know that for almost 80 years after the Civil War, the Confederate flag was pretty much reserved for remembering the fallen until around 1948.  That’s when the U.S. first began efforts towards desegregation and equality.  The Confederate flag was dusted off and brought back as a battle flag again by segregationists and Dixie-crats who adopted the flag as their new symbol.  Soon, the KKK and other racists groups embraced the Confederate flag as a symbol of opposition to Blacks where it is often brandished at protests like the one recently in Charlottesville.   I know enough history about the Confederate flag and symbols to know that this is not about embracing history and culture.  It is about racism and hatred.

What do you think….should Confederate symbols be preserved or removed?  If the symbols are removed, does it endanger other monuments to historical figures like George Washington and  Martin Luther King?